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How to Navigate a Festival Merch Tent

posted by Joshua Johnson on April 18, 2014

Boston Calling Merch Tent via In Your Speakers

Visiting the the merch tent at a music festival can be overwhelming - it’s dark, cramped, and you feel lucky just to escape with a handful of cloth and some money left in the bank. However, if done correctly, getting the band t-shirts you want can be a quick and easy experience. Here are five tips on how successfully navigate a festival merch tent. 

1. Visit the merch tent in the mid-late afternoon 

One of the key steps to merch tent success is visiting the tent at the right time. You could go as soon as the gates open, but then you have to carry around a bunch of shirts all day. Plus, some of the undercard bands don’t always have their merch ready first thing in the morning. You might run into what happened to me when I tried to get a Metric t-shirt at Lollapalooza 2010:

11 AM
Me: Are there any Metric t-shirts?
Girl at merch table: No, they aren’t here yet. Try back later today.

You could try at night, but then you risk the chance that your favorite band’s shirt may sell out. In addition, a lot of bands are only in town for one day of the festival before moving on with the rest of their tour, meaning they’ll take any excess merch with them. This brings me to the conclusion of the Great Metric T-Shirt Search of 2010 story:

8 PM
Me: Are there any Metric t-shirts?
Same girl: No, we never got any Metric shirts.
Me: Oh ok, thanks anyway.
Same girl: I’m just kidding, we sold out lolz. 

As the (unnecessarily obnoxious) girl in this story proves, you often have a limited window of time to get your t-shirt of choice. I recommend hitting the merch tent in the mid-late afternoon, around 2-4pm. Everything will likely still be in stock, and most of the bands probably have arrived/haven’t left yet. Plus you’ll have probably already seen a bunch of bands by then, and you won’t mind standing in a dark tent for a bit.

2. Think of what shirts you want beforehand

This is solid advice for any sort of going-in-blind shopping experience (such as Record Store Day). It’s also fairly obvious advice, but important nonetheless. You don’t want to be the person who’s holding up the entire line while you ponder whether a HAIM t-shirt is the best use of your money. So before you enter the merch tent, have an idea of what t-shirts you want to buy. Perhaps you’d like to take a perusal of this handy-dandy guide of our favorite band t-shirts (you're welcome). If you’re feeling extra prepared, maybe think of a few back-up shirts you’d like to get if they don’t have exactly what you want. 

3. Find the real line

When you first enter the merch tent, the long lines may seem like it’s not worth it to wait. But chances are only about half the people in the tent are actually in a line with the intention of buying something. The other half are just staring at the shirts and trying to get some shade. Yet due to the cramped space and the general lack of organization of these tents, everyone just becomes one giant mass of people. The key here is to weed through the just-lookers and find the real line. Ask people if they are actually in line, and check out the edges of the table. Like a concert audience, the merch tent is a lot less crowded on the peripheries. 

4. Shop for the undercard first

The merch for the headliners will usually be available during all days of the festival. Band’s in the undercard, however, often only stick around for the day they are playing, meaning their merch might also only be available for one day. So if you’re budgeting your merch spending, be sure to get your favorite undercard band’s t-shirt before you splurge on the headliner’s. You’ll be able to get an Outkast shirt any day of the festival.

5. Set aside money for the surprise band

It happens every time. You stumble across a band you had no intention of seeing - a band you don’t even remember being on the lineup. But once you’ve seen them, you’ve fallen in love. That promise of discovering your next favorite band is one of the coolest things about music festivals. Naturally, you want to flaunt your love for your new discovery, and what better way to do that then with a t-shirt? So make sure set aside some money for the inevitable surprise band that steals your heart.

See Also:

The Best Band Merch at 2014 Music Festivals
6 Best Apps for the On-The-Go DJ
How to Get to the Barricade at a Music Festival, Without Being a Jerk